For quite some time now I’ve wanted to reflect on Armenian theater. Aram Kouyoumdjian’s latest play, “Constantinople” (opening on Friday September 27 in North Hollywood) provides that opportunity, though in a more focused way than originally intended.
For full disclosure, I work with Aram, assisting with fundraising.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the first full run-through rehearsal. I was repeatedly moved to tears. I think this is his best production so far (and I’ve had the opportunity to see his work since the early 1990s).
The play is set in immediate post-Genocide/WWI Bolis. This is a time and place about which I knew precious little. When Aram was inspired by Lerna Ekmekcioglu’s book, “Recovering Armenia” to write this play, I felt compelled to read it too. I strongly recommend everyone read that book. It was quite the eye-opener. But if you choose to be reading-wise lazy, then at least see the play.
The ardor, danger, disappointment, energy, feminism, fervor, great-power politics of that time and place, hope, intense activity, loss, nation-preservation, nationalism, political tension, rapid developments and state-building are all on stage. Simply, all the key issues of the time are on display. Of course there’s a romance running through the play, too.
What’s also fascinating is that there are many parallels to the issues we confront today as a nation, in the homeland, the Diaspora, and the unique place that is Bolis. I miss no opportunity to remind people that before Turks took over the city, Byzantium was the capital of the millennium-long Byzantine Empire, ruled by Armenians for roughly one third of its existence. Also, remember how much of Western Armenian culture is rooted and evolved there. We have a huge stake in that place, and this play serves as a potent reminder of that importance. Those in our communities who hail most recently from Bolis will undoubtedly feel great pride upon seeing, nay, LIVING vicariously, what their parents and grandparents were doing a century ago.
The show will run through November 2 at the Secret Rose Theater in North Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets are available at www.itsmyseat.com/Constantinople.
Do not miss this show. Especially given the intimate setting of a 60-seat theater, you will feel like “you were there” as Walter Cronkite used to say in the historical TV series he hosted.